A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615Ė1691)
Injuries from Malicious Enemies - III
(Continued from the previous issue)
8. Do you suffer anything but what Christ foretold you of? Did He not tell you, that you must sit down and count what it will cost you to be a Christian, before you undertook it? Did He not tell you, that you shall be hated of the world, because you are not of the world? Yea, hated of all (worldly) men for His nameís sake? And did you not profess to take Him and His salvation on these terms? And to consent to His conditions? If you thought them too hard, you might have refused them. What hypocrites are they that silence Christís ministers for scrupling to engage them in covenant to Christ at their baptism, by the symbolical, transient image of a cross, as obliging them to be the soldiers of a crucified Christ, and when they have done, abhor all that in Christianity which will bring the cross, and will rather venture on hell than bear it! Yea, they will lay the cross by persecution upon others! It is true, that it was in your infancy that this covenant was made by others for you; but did not you own it at age, when you called yourselves Christians? Alas! Hypocrisy undoes the visible church: men mean nothing less than what they vow. They think that resolution for suffering, or martyrdom, is proper to some rare, extraordinary saints, and will not believe that none is a true Christan nor can be saved without it; that is, without preferring heaven before earth, and the soul before the body. Take any of these worldly hypocrites aside, and seriously ask him, (in France or Flanders), how dare you persecute the servants of Christ? And they will say, "It is not long of us, we cannot help it; the law and magistrates command us: we shall suffer ourselves if we do not obey them." Would you think that these men did stand to their baptism? As if they plainly said, "Whatever Christ saith, we will do anything against Him and His servants that manís law bids us, rather than we will suffer ourselves. How far are these men from being ready for martyrdom, yea, or being Christians, or the servants of God! If you are Christians you have bound yourselves by covenant to take up the cross and follow Christ, though to the death, and to choose rather to suffer than willfully to sin.
9. And did not you, as Christians, list yourselves as soldiers under Christ, against the devil, flesh, and world? And is he a soldier indeed that expecteth no enemies? And that murmureth because he must come in danger, and see any war? Did you not know that there is a war throughout all the world, between Christ and Satan, between the womanís and serpentís seed? And is hurting and killing any wonder in a war? Or that he that is born after the flesh should persecute him that is born after the Spirit?
10. What hath a Christian to do in this life, but to prepare for a safe and happy death? And if you had done this, you had prepared for persecution and martyrdom itself. If you are ready to die by sickness, why not by fire or sword, by axe or halter, if God will have it so? Do you not know that most sicknesses do by their length put the body to more pain than ordinary martyrdom before they kill them? How easy a death is hanging, in comparison of dying by the stone in the bladder, or by the colic, or many other sicknesses! Yea, the painful death of burning, being soon despatched, is little to these. And sure a fine, or prison, or poverty, is yet less than any of these. O slothful men! Unfaithful to yourselves, that have lived so long unprepared for death, when you had nothing else to do in the world. Your flying from suffering by sin, doth show that you have neglected the great work of life, or that that which you lived for is yet undone. You would have been ready to suffer, if you had been ready to die. And doth this seem strange to you, after all your warnings and professions?
11. Have you a due estimate of worldly things? Are you crucified to the world, and it to you, by the cross of Christ? Do you account them as loss and dung for Him? Do you use them as if you used them not, and possess them as if you possessed them not? Do you judge of them as death will teach you to do? If you do, sure you will not count that persecution that taketh them from you an unsufferable thing; nor be impatient to be deprived of them.
12. Had you rather be in the case of the prosperous persecutor, or the persecuted believer? If the former, you are no true Christians: if the latter, murmur not when you have that which you prefer. Sure a true martyr at the stake, or with Daniel in the lionsí den, would be loth to change states with Nebuchadnezzar or Darius.
13. Do you think Christ loved Stephen the first martyr, or James the first martyred apostle, or Peter and Paul that died for the gospel, less than He loved those that overlived them and suffered no such things? Is not the crown of martyrdom the most glorious? Why are they said to live before the rest a thousand years? Had you not now rather have Stephenís place in heaven, than theirs that suffered nothing for Christ? And if it be best at last, is it not most eligible now?
14. Are you afraid of men? You have a greater than man to fear, and greater hurt than man can do you: "Fear not them that can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but fear Him that can destroy soul and body in hell; yea, I say unto you, fear Him," (Luke 12:4). Are you afraid of a prison, or death, or fire? Fear more hell-fire and death everlasting. When Bliney burnt his finger in the candle, he remembered that hell-fire was more intolerable.
15. Wherein hath Christ been more an example to you, than in patient and obedient suffering, even unto death, and to the most accursed, shameful death? Do you think that He only suffered to keep us from all suffering? Peter saith, it was to leave us an example; and Paul saith, that we must be conformed to Him, and partakers of His sufferings. Why else doth Christ call us to bear the cross? And is it not joyful to see the footsteps of Christ in the way we go, and to know that we follow Him?
16. Sure that is not a state of greatest fear and sorrow, in which Christ hath commanded us to rejoice with the greatest joy: but so He hath done in the case of persecution: "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousnessí sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. 5:10,12). "Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial, but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christís sufferings, that when His glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy" (I Peter 4:12,13). "They took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that in heaven they had a better and enduring substance" (Heb. 10:34). So Heb. 11 throughout.
17. God hath promised you that all your sufferings shall work together for your good (see Rom. 8:28), and taught you how to make them your exceeding gain. Practice this art, and you will be more patient, when you find the benefit and feel that you are more than conquerors. Our victory is by patient suffering. The worst men may conquer our bodies by force, but our souls are unconquered, and we are conquerors of the temptation and real hurt, while we keep obedient patience. When it is said of Job, "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly;" Satan was conquered, and missed his end, while he seemed to prevail upon his flesh.
By persecution you may learn, 1. What a nature is in lapsed men. 2. That there are devils that keep up a war against Christ. 3. How great their power is in the world, by Godís permission, over wicked men. 4. How wonderful a work of God it is, that the godly can live in so much peace and safety as they do, among those that are the very servants of the devil; even as Daniel was kept in the den of lions, because God shut their mouths. 5. How great need there is of sanctifying grace. 6. How great a mercy is our conversion, which cureth such a nature in us. 7. It calleth us to continual Christian watchfulness, to beware of men, and especially of their temptations, and to be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves. 8. It driveth us to constant prayer and dependence upon God for help and safety. 9. It teacheth us to keep up faith and hope, as having our eye continually on God, and on the heavenly inheritance, without which we have nothing to support us. 10. And it assureth us that there is a day of judgment, in which Christ will call over again in righteousness all the false judgments and actions of this world. He that maketh all this use of persecution, will have gain enough to plead for patience.
18. To review this last; if you believe in Christ indeed, you do believe that He will come again to judge the world in righteousness, and to set all straight that here was made crooked by the falsehood and malignity of men. And will not the foresight of that resolve you patiently to suffer? Faith may foresee how poor blinded persecutors will then have their eyes opened, and see him with terror, whom they persecuted in His servants, and how he will silence and condemn them, with, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41; see also II Thess. 1:6,10-12; II Thess. 2:12). If the forethoughts of that day do not quiet or resolve you, alas!, you have greater matter of fear and trouble than persecution, even your own unbelief. Pray more for faith, than for deliverance from men.
19. Consider comparatively what man is, that hurteth you; and what God is, who hath promised to help you and reward you. Man is a worm, blinded and mad by the deceit of Satan. They know not what they are doing against themselves and God, as well as against you: they are all the while going towards the grave, and their souls towards the dreadful bar of God: their bones and dust are no whit terrible. If God will here have mercy on them, He will make them know who it is they persecute, and how hard a work it is barefoot to kick against the pricks, and make them, as Paul, themselves undergo such persecutions for Christ, as they madly used against others; they will say, as Paul, "I was mad against them": and his case tells you, that if the very captain of the persecutors were but converted, though by a voice and miracle from heaven, the rest, instead of taking it for a conviction, would presently persecute him themselves. But if God let them go on, alas!, where will they shortly be? O pray, pray hard for your persecutors, as Christ did, before they are past prayers and hope, in hell. But are these poor worms to be much feared? How oft are we charged not to fear them? (See Luke 12:4; Matt. 10:28; John 24:27; Jer. 46:27,18; Ezek. 3:8,9). The fearful (that fear men) are numbered with unbelievers, and are shut out among the dogs, if fear prevail against their faith (see Rev. 22).
And then think what God is, who hath promised our defence. When Infinite power, wisdom, and love, is set against a few wasps and worms, shall our fear of them be greater than our trust in Him? If it were but an angel from heaven that appeared for our defence or encouragement, against a dog that barked at us, it were a shame to us not to trust Him. "If God be for us, who shall be against us?" Read Ps. 91; Rom. 8; Matt 4. See Isa. 8:13,14; Isa. 41:10.13,14.
20. Can anything do you greater good, that can outwardly befall you, than that which both assureth you of your right to heaven, and puts you presently in possession of it? And this will be the fruit of martyrdom. Oh what a change will that day make! From torment to our Masterís joy! From the raging army of the devil, to the heavenly choir of saints and angels! A strong faith would make us long for such a day. As children of God, joint heirs with Christ, if we suffer with Him, we shall be glorified with Him; and the present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the glory (see Rom. 8:18). "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are not seen are eternal"(II Cor. 4:16-18). "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well-doing, as to a faithful Creator" (I Pet. 4:19).